Wang name comes to an end

Wang, a pioneering computer maker in the minicomputer era of the 1980s, is no more--at least in name.

Mike Ricciuti
Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
3 min read
Wang, a pioneer in the minicomputer era of the 1980s, is no more--at least in name.

Wang Global, the latest incarnation of the former hardware maker, was acquired today by Dutch computer services firm Getronics for about $2 billion.

The combined company will ditch the Wang nameplate in favor of Getronics, and will employ more than 33,000, according to chairman and CEO Joseph Tucci. Corporate headquarters will be located in Amsterdam. Roughly 20,000 current Wang employees will remain at the company's Billerica, Massachusetts location and at other worldwide locations. No layoffs are planned.

Tucci will join Getronics' five-person management board. Getronics' Cees van Luijk will continue as president and CEO.

As far as Getronics' plans for the United States, Tucci said "basically this gives them a global platform and a stronger presence here in the U.S. This gives us investment and money to grow our business. Headquarters will be in Amsterdam, but some headquarters functions will remain here. I'll be here and in Amsterdam. I'll be traveling a lot."

Tucci said he has mixed feelings about the acquisition. "We've built this company... with 11 acquisitions and a lot of hard work. I'd be less than candid with you if I said it didn't give me some feeling in the pit of my stomach to go the other way [and remain independent]."

Wang has been through multiple business plans and chief executives since founder An Wang started the company in 1951 as a seller of magnetic memory cores. The company later moved into calculator manufacturing, and went public in 1967 as Wang Laboratories.

Realizing that calculators were becoming a commodity item, Wang switched to building office automation equipment, and struck gold with its Wang word processing systems, which revolutionized the market in the 1980s. The word processors consisted of a central minicomputer system and networked terminals running specialized software.

But the company fell on hard times, as the computer industry switched to so-called "open" systems which did not rely on the proprietary software used by Wang's word processors.

Many analysts claim that Wang's downfall was linked to the company's decision to stick with proprietary minicomputer-based software, even as the personal computer came into vogue. Other minicomputer-era computer makers, including Prime Computer, Data General, and Digital Equipment, ran into financial difficulties as the personal computer swept the industry beginning in the 1980s.

In the mid-1980s, An Wang handed day-to-day management of the firm to his son Frederick, who became president in 1986.

Wang later removed his son, and hired a former GE executive, Richard Miller, who tried unsuccessfully to turn the company around. Wang filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992.

Current chairman and CEO Joseph Tucci succeeded Miller in 1993. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 1994, and positioned itself as a supplier of imaging technology.

In 1997, Wang sold its imaging business to Eastman Kodak. Wang has been struggling since to make a comeback as a firm focused on desktop and networking services. It acquired Olsy services, a division of Olivetti, in 1998 for $2.3 billion.

Wang reported 1998 revenues of more than $3 billion. In February, Wang reported a fourth-quarter loss of $16.4 million, or 43 cents per diluted share, and said it expects to cut more than 3,100 jobs by the end of this year.

After the Getronics acquisition, the combined companies will have revenues of about $5 billion, 33,000 employees, and operations in more than 44 companies.

The public tender offer will begin May 10 and end June 7.

Getronics' chief executive officer Cees van Luijk, who will head the new combined firm, said the significance of the deal lay in its geographical spread. The firm has extensive coverage in Europe with only slight gaps in Sweden and Germany.

"Customers want one supplier to do the work worldwide," he told Reuters in an interview.